The World Health Organization (WHO) has pulled its team from a laboratory in Sierra Leone after a health worker was infected by Ebola — a move that highlights the strain and exposure to risk placed upon experts trying to halt the spread of the killer disease.
Daniel Kertesz, the organization's representative in the country, said the team in the city of Kailahun was exhausted and that the added stress of a colleague's getting sick could increase the risk of mistakes. Meanwhile, Canadian health officials confirmed late Tuesday that they would evacuate a three-member mobile lab team in Sierra Leone after people in their hotel were diagnosed with Ebola.
And a third doctor in Sierra Leone, Sahr Rogers, who was working at a hospital in the eastern town of Kenema when he contracted Ebola, has died, Sierra Leonean presidential adviser Ibrahim Ben Kargbo said Wednesday.
The blows come amid rising concern over the ability of Sierra Leone's and international health care professionals to halt the spread of the disease. On Monday, Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, warned that the killer disease still had the "upper hand."
In Liberia to observe the response to the crisis, he said that despite Ebola's having the "upper hand," experts still have the means to stop it. "Lots of hard work is happening. Lots of good things are happening," he said at a meeting attended by Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
But even as Liberia has resorted to stringent measures to halt Ebola's spread, frustration mounted over the slow collection of bodies from neighborhoods in Monrovia, the capital. That resentment manifested itself this week when a group of residents attached plastic ties to the wrists and ankles of one suspected Ebola victim and dragged his corpse to a busy street.
The outbreak has so far killed more than 1,400 people in West Africa.
There is no proven treatment for Ebola, so health workers primarily have focused on isolating the sick. However, a small number of patients in this outbreak have received an experimental drug, ZMapp. The London hospital treating a British nurse infected in Sierra Leone, William Pooley, said he is receiving the drug. It was unclear where the doses for Pooley came from, given that the California-based maker of ZMapp said its supplies were exhausted.
Two Americans, a Spaniard and three health workers in Liberia have received ZMapp, but it remains unclear if the drug is effective. The Americans have been released from the hospital, but the Spaniard died, as did a Liberian doctor.
In Nigeria, meanwhile, two Ebola patients were declared to have recovered and were released from a hospital, Health Minister Onyebuchi Chukwu said Tuesday. Five people have died of the disease in Nigeria, while seven people have recovered. One person remains in the hospital in an isolation ward, Chukwu said.
In a bid to battle the spread of Ebola, the WHO has deployed nearly 400 workers from its staff and partner organizations to Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea and Nigeria.
The latest outbreak — the largest on record — has overwhelmed the already shaky health systems in some of the world's poorest countries. The WHO attributed the high number of infections among health workers to a shortage of protective gear, improper use of such equipment and a shortage of staff to treat the influx of patients.
As many as 90,000 protective suits will be needed every month, according to Jorge Castilla, an epidemiologist with the European Union Commission's Department for Humanitarian Aid. He did not say how many suits were lacking.
Meanwhile, a separate Ebola outbreak emerged over the weekend in Congo, though experts say it is not related to the West African epidemic. Doctors Without Borders, which is running many of the treatment centers in the West Africa outbreak, said it is sending experts and supplies to Congo but warned that the charity's resources are stretched thin.
The group did not mention Frieden's visit or recent U.N. ones, but it said in a statement that discussions taking place now about international coordination are coming too late and that there are countries that could make a dramatic difference if they provided more expertise and resources. It did not name the countries.
"This is not only an Ebola outbreak. It is a humanitarian emergency, and it needs a full-scale humanitarian response," Lindis Hurum, the group's emergency coordinator in Monrovia, said in the statement.
According to the WHO, the Ebola outbreak has killed over half of the more than 2,600 people sickened. The U.N. agency said an unprecedented 240 health care workers have been infected.
Al Jazeera and wire services